How Teamwork Can Work for Your Family

by added on 20 May 2020, Comments Off on How Teamwork Can Work for Your Family , posted in Blog
By Susan Carroll, Parent Educator


When I was finishing my Master of Education degree this year, one of the most helpful courses I took is surprisingly applicable to family life right now in quarantine. It wasn’t a course on education or psychology, but one on how to work effectively in a team. The longer we are all home together as a family, the more I realize the importance of everyone in our home being on Team Carroll. I often tell my children when they are bickering that we are all on the same team, meaning that we can always work together to solve our problems.

Here are some things I’ve learned about effective teams and how to apply them to your family:

Establish Norms

This is the first step in the formation of any team.  Norms set the expectations for all members.  In a family, we do this by articulating our family values and setting clear expectations for our children.  One of my favorite phrases in parenting is to say. “In our family, we…”  as a way of explaining a decision.  For example, in the Carroll household, we are a family who helps each other.  By stating this expectation clearly, we can always go back to this when problem-solving.  So, when siblings are fighting over toys or personal space, we can state that value.  We are a family who helps each other.  How can we help each other share this toy?  How can we help each other find some space and time apart?  When we work together in this way, we show our children the importance and consistency of our family’s values.

Build Trust

Any group working together needs to have trust.  Our children need to trust that we are there for them and in control of ourselves.  One of the most important aspects of trust for people is having psychological safety – meaning they are comfortable expressing themselves.  This applies to our children in many ways as they need to be able to speak their minds and express their feelings – and they will have plenty of feelings to express! As parents, we want to create an environment where children feel safe expressing themselves. This means allowing our children time and space to express and process feelings and being available for our children even during their most explosive moments.  We call this “emotion coaching,” and one of the most important steps is to connect with our children as this builds trust and allows them to feel emotionally safe.  Dr. Laura Markham shares a easy 6-step method for emotion coaching here.  She stresses the importance of parents first calming themselves and then helping children regulate their feelings.  It is important for us to be the calm in their storm rather than adding to the whirlwind that can be a young child’s emotional outburst.

Give Attention

Teams require attention.  Not surprisingly, so do children.  Even with families together more than ever, our children still want as much attention as we are able and willing to give them.  I have noticed with my own family that all of us being home does not always mean that everyone is getting the attention that they need.  For this reason, I have made it a priority to schedule special time with each of my three children.  Dr. Laura Kastner reminded us in her presentation “Getting to Calm” that children need special time.  In fact, she called it a child’s “miracle grow.” (You can view an interview where she discusses her book “Getting to Calm” here.)  Special time does feel magical.  Just 15-20 minutes each day of focused, uninterrupted time can have a significant positive impact on a child’s behavior.  After all, most challenging behaviors are really bids for our attention.  Even my 15-year-old has a better attitude when I have made sure to engage in special time with him.

Work Together

Teams that work together build something called group cohesion – this refers to the ties that bind the team together and allows them to work collectively toward a shared goal.  In a family, this can take many forms.  Perhaps you are all working together on a project around the house or you work together to make dinner.  A great way to work together as a family is through household chores.  Even very young children can help set the table, fold laundry, and clean up the toys in the house.  Children will appreciate being on your family’s team and seeing themselves as capable helpers.  Julietta Skoog at Sproutable shares some ways she has built a culture of teamwork through family chores here.  By asking children to participate in your family’s daily life, you are reinforcing the power of your family always working together as a cohesive team.

Problem-Solve Collaboratively

If your family is like mine, you’ve seen your fair share of conflicts, especially recently, but how often do you ask your children to help you problem-solve?  For teams to work together, they need to be able to solve problems as a group.  This is true of family teams as well.  When problems arise, ask your children for input on how to solve the problem.  Are they having trouble with a sibling?  How can this be solved?  Ask them what they think should happen.  Are you having bedtime battles?  Ask your child what would work for them instead.  You may be surprised with the solution they have.  If their idea doesn’t fit your family’s values or expectations (such as they are going to hit their sibling or never brush their teeth again) then you keep looking for a solution that works for everyone.  Once you come up with a plan, your child is more likely to be excited about this new solution and stick with it.  Just like adults, they want to feel that their ideas and feelings matter and they want to be heard.  Working together in this way also improves the parent-child relationship.  Dr. Dan Siegel discusses in this video how a positive parent-child relationship helps cultivate security for a child.

The most important aspect of a team is that everyone relies on one another to succeed.  In your family, you, your partner, and your children depend on and support each other every day.  By working together, listening to each other, and giving everyone the attention they need, your family team will be strong and successful!

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